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Joy Ride

You’re never too old to become younger.  Mae West

It started as a lark, “a wouldn’t it be fun if . . . ?!?” kind of thing, the way our boys, when they were in high school and college, used to fantasize, wouldn’t it be fun if . . .?!?  Wouldn’t it be fun if we didn’t have to get real jobs, if be bought a cow instead, sold the milk to our neighbors?!?  Wouldn’t it be fun if we bought a cart with a catchy tune and bicycled around the neighborhood every afternoon at the perfect time when kids were starving for ice cream.  It started out like that back in February as we sat around Joy Center’s art table, folding and cutting and binding our books under the guidance of our fearless Book Art leaders, Amber and Raja.  Esther had been attending the monthly gatherings since late summer, shortly after she had moved to Gladstone from the east coast, and, now, in the midst of the U.P. winter, we were learning that she was moving again.  At first we were dismayed.  She is a bright light at the monthly meetings, a book-binding goddess who inspires and delights.  We didn’t want to lose her.  But then, we rallied; with our Yooper mentality, we focused on the positive. She wasn’t moving to Alaska or China or Timbuktu.  Duluth wasn’t really all that far away.

It was me who piped up first.  “Wouldn’t it be fun if we went on a road trip!?!” I exclaimed.  “A Joy Center Adventure!”  And then I remembered the Black Cat.  I love the Black Cat!  For years, the whole time our boys were in high school and college, the era of track meets and ski meets and St. Olaf College functions, Ashland, Wisconsin, three hours west of our home in Ishpeming, became a familiar road stop.  There was the bread store with European-style treats that even the gluten-intolerant would want to load up on, and the Co-op across the street, and there was the Black Cat beside the Co-op, with its coffees and teas and healthy sandwiches and salads and soups, with its funky art exhibits and its century-old tin ceilings and brick inner walls.  “We should meet up in Ashland!” I cried.  “The Black Cat Coffee House is the best!  And they have tables in the back where we could work on our books!”  That evening in February, the lark became a lark song and the whole group began to sing.  Amber and Raja were game, and Laurie and Cece climbed on board as well.  And Esther was thrilled that we would even consider such a trip.

And that evening of fantasizing, as high vibe as it had felt back then on that book-binding February night, became a distant memory in the busy days of spring, and, other than a few more “wouldn’t it be fun if’s . . .” not much else had been said about our Ashland road trip.  Frankly I thought it had gone the way of the backyard cow and the ice cream cart, that it was just a fun adolescent fantasy.  But remember how some of those fantasies, some of those teenage joy rides, found their way into the world of matter?  And remember how you could hardly believe it when it started to happen?

It was like that last Thursday morning as we met at my husband, Cam’s Dental Office parking lot, shortly after 7:00 AM.  There we were, Amber and Raja, Laurie and Cece and me, and there was Matt, too, who had climbed on board this not-really-that-well-planned-out trip to Ashland at the last minute.  And with Matt on board, I wasn’t sure how we were all going to climb on board of my five-passenger Subaru.  But climb on board we did!  We crammed into that Subaru, buckled in as best we could, and Matt, he made a nest for himself in the back, and our adolescent “wouldn’t it be fun if . . .?!?” became an adolescent reality, a Joy Center joy ride!  And I’m thinking now that our send-off made it even more fun, because, as I handed the keys over to Raja, and he and his fearless Book Art co-leader Amber took their place in the front, as I scrunched into the backseat on the hump in the middle, Cam, not looking quite as adolescent in his shirt and tie, stood there in his office parking lot, shaking his head.  “I don’t think you can do this!” he muttered.  “There are too many of you!”  And I smiled and I said that we’d be fine and I waved back at Cam as Raja took the wheel and steered us west.

And I meant it.  I knew that we’d be fine.  I knew that Raja the mechanic was a sensible, safe driver.  I knew that we weren’t really adolescents, that we book-binders were a sane grounded bunch of adults.  And yet it felt a bit naughty squished in like that, in the back of my very own car that didn’t even feel like my own car anymore, on a road trip that was thrown together at the last moment.  And it felt fun to be out on the open road on a summer-like morning in early June with my fellow tribe members, the Jack Kerouacs’ of book-binding.  I think we all felt young again.  The playing field had equaled itself out, with the youngest of our tribe in the front seat.  And the stories – they poured out of us and the laughter was snort-filled and although Raja stuck to the speed limit, the three hours flew by, and, before we knew it, there we were, on a side street in Ashland, parking right in front of that European bread store, right across from the sweet brick building with the Black Cat sign.  There we were walking through the door and into our “wouldn’t it be fun if  . . .” fantasy.

And meet Esther we did, who had taken her own road trip east, and we marveled that we had done it, all day we marveled that we had done it.  And they loved us at the Black Cat, loved that we had driven the distance, that we had said yes to this trip.  And yes, we did say, yes to this trip, to a day of book-binding on a dimly lit table in the back of a coffee house, to a day of sharing our visions for this up-coming season, to a day of walking along the shores of Lake Superior, to a day of nachos and sandwiches and teas and coffees.   And, it was big hearty yes that we had said to the teenager inside of each of us, to that part of us that still loves the open road and the impulsive adventure.  We didn’t even pay for our own food.  I had grabbed a stash of bills that I’d put aside at Joy Center after my mother’s passing, from a very small insurance policy that she had left for her kids, a stash that I now realized was meant for this very day.  “It’s on my mother!” I cried out.  “It’s on Grandma Annie!”  So all day, as we drank and ate to our hearts’ delight, we raised our hands to the heavens and we thanked Grandma Annie.  And all day, I raised my hands to the heavens and I said to the heavens that I can’t believe it, that I’m having so much fun, that this time the “wouldn’t it be fun if . . .” really came true.

Joy Center Joy Ride: Ashland, Wisconsin

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